“Imperial Reflections: Art, Diplomacy, and Exchange between France and Siam, 1680s through 1860s”
Wednesday, October 29, 5:15 pm
In June 1861 the French Emperor, Napoleon III, and his wife Eugénie received a delegation of ambassadors from Siam (Thailand) at the palace of Fontainebleau. The French government hired Jean-Léon Gérôme, an artist of historical and Orientalist subjects, to document the reception in a monumental painting that aimed to glorify Napoleon III and validate France’s commercial and imperial activities in Southeast Asia. Gérôme spent more than two years preparing for the painting, scrupulously studying photographs of the Siamese envoys as well as prints depicting Franco-Siamese exchanges of the 1680s that served as models for his work. Yet when Gérôme’s painting was finally unveiled at the Salon of 1865, it fell flat, for reasons that this talk explores. Ironically it served as a more effective legitimating tool for the Siamese King Mongkut, who acquired a copy of the painting in the late 1860s.
Meredith Martin is Associate Professor of Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.